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Daniel Rice, Published March 30 2013

Letter: Measure threatens research

As concerned individuals who also happen to be experienced educators, we wish to alert the public to a recent and disturbing action taken by the House of the North Dakota Legislature. Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, attached an amendment to a bill at the last minute that has the intent of interfering with and seriously limiting the ability of faculty to carry out their work on behalf of the universities and the people of North Dakota. The measure passed the House and now goes to the Senate as SB 2368.

What is alarming to us about this measure is that it inserts the Legislature into the internal functions of the universities by prohibiting universities from working with certain external agencies, and is therefore a serious violation of academic freedom. Academic freedom is the ability of faculty to carry out the work of teaching, research and service without political and external interference.

This freedom is what has made American universities the envy of the world and has resulted in amazing discoveries and beneficial work of all kinds in diverse fields such as medicine, the natural and social sciences, education, the humanities and fine arts, and many other areas. This bill opens the door to putting all of that in jeopardy.

We urge the Senate to remove the amendment, and we urge the public to contact their legislators to urge this action. The time to act is now.

We are concerned that many who voted for these restrictions had perhaps not fully considered the larger implications of this action. If it is acceptable for the Legislature to ban our ability to collaborate with certain agencies or organizations as we carry out our work, it will be acceptable for the Legislature to ban certain books from our classrooms, to ban certain subjects from being discussed or taught, to ban research on certain issues, all because of political or ideological agendas. The implications are alarming and frightening.

We believe that the residents of the state did not elect their representatives to micro-manage, censure and control the academic work of faculty at our public universities. It is also contradictory for the Legislature to be concerned about protecting higher education from political influence and intrusion when it engages in that very practice in this fundamental and alarming way.

Join us in speaking out on behalf of the integrity of our public universities and the ability of faculty to carry out their academic work without political interference. If the Senate passes SB 2368 with the amendment in place, we urge our fellow residents to ask the governor to veto the bill.

Our signatures reflect our personal views as people who care deeply about education in North Dakota and are not intended to represent the position of our institutions.

Also signing this column: Sharon Carson, Lucy Ganje, Mark Guy, James Mochoruk, Amy Phillips, William Sheridan, Curt Stofferahn, Jeffrey Sun, Dory Walker, Sharon Wilsnack. All are educators on North Dakota campuses.